When I was a young kid, Friday nights held a certain kind of magic. I had two choices on most Fridays; head into New York City with my father and siblings, or go food shopping with mom. Going into the city with dad could be glamorous and exciting, but there was a quiet beauty in joining my mother for her weekly trek to the Teaneck Pathmark.

My older brother and sister, being the first American-born children in our family, were enrolled in Slovak school. My brother also had the added bonus being forced to learn the accordion. Both of these activities required my father dragging the pupils into New York City, and this is after the poor man had worked all day in Astoria. I think the toll taker at the GW Bridge must’ve known my father by name. The times when I opted to join my siblings in the city were nights filled with a sort of high-voltage energy. There was so much to look at, smell and experience in the city; and with my dad at the wheel, you never knew where you would wind up.

We would all pile into the car an head over the George Washington Bridge. As we tooled down the Major Deegan or the Harlem River Drive, we would listen to the hits of the 70’s crackling with static from our AM radio. Sometimes dad would sing along to a few of the kookier songs (and the 70’s had their share of goofy songs) in an hysterical falsetto voice. Many times the radio led to arguments between us kids. Stefan was not a fan of pop music, and would rather have listened to the Yankees game or tuned into Jean Shepherd on WOR. Although I love “A Christmas Story,” now,  back then I had not yet learned to appreciate his style of humor and was quite chagrined at having to listen to him. Yet, I can still remember him singing “The Bear Missed the Train.”

There are many songs that immediately take me back to those trips into the city. When I hear songs like “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” “Back Stabbers,” “Pick up the Pieces,” and “Rock the Boat”  I can vividly picture me sitting in the back seat, up against the window, looking at the twinkling lights of the apartment buildings, bridges and highways, and the scenery of a New York evening. To this day I cannot hear “Nights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues without thinking of the Triborough Bridge.

Once in the city we would walk along the streets to our destination, and I would skip over the subway grates and look into all the store windows. The city was always busy and bustling, so you had to stay close to dad or get swallowed up by the mean streets. I am amazed that at times dad would willingly take all four of us along with him, for these trips always proved to be a long night and it was a lot of work to keep us rounded up and occupied.

Most Friday nights excursions to NYC included a visit to some friend or relative once class was over. The people I recall us visiting the most were our cousins Libby and Pete. Eventually they moved to a nice little brick home in Queens, but for a while they lived in an apartment building that I loved visiting. Having only known my Oakdene Avenue oasis as home, the idea of living in a city apartment building was a foreign one to me. They lived several flights up, and making the zig zagging trek up the linoleum-plastered stairs was half the adventure. Each floor had its own aroma and atmosphere, and I wondered who lived their lives behind each closed door.

Nungesser's White Castle in the 70's. I think I spent a few years eating in that parking lot.

Most nights on our way home dad would treat us to some culinary feast, my favorite of which was a late night trip to White Castle. The drive from the city to the White Castle in North Bergen would usually put me to sleep, but I would always wake up to the glow of those white neon lights and the smell that can’t be mistaken for anything but a small, little hamburger with 5 holes punched in the meat.

Other Fridays I would opt to stay with my mother, which meant a trip to the supermarket. My home town had two grocery stores; the Co-op which was used for a few weekly necessities, and the Acme, which we rarely used at all. However, the bulk of the family food supply was purchased at the Pathmark in Teaneck. The store was bigger and had better sales than our little local markets and mom meant to stretch the family dollar as far as she could.

I loved food shopping with my mom. She always let me pick out a treat and each week I would try to get something different. My choices always revolved around some sort of food item my father would forbid us to have; candy wax bottles, tv dinners or sugary breakfast cereals. Most times I settled for rice pudding from the deli counter, and Pathmark’s was the best. Mom visited the deli counter each week to load up on cold cuts for our sandwiches, and more times than not I would come away with a cardboard carton of creamy rice pudding, sprinkled with cinnamon.

"The Clicker"

Mom shopped like a woman with a mission. She carried this little red clicker that would calculate how much you were spending. With each item put in the cart, she would enter in the price with a few deft clicks of her fingers, making sure she got everything she needed without going over her budget. I don’t know how she managed to get all our family needed in one trip to the store. Sure, she may need an extra can of mushrooms or a gallon of milk during the week; those would be picked up at the Co-op. But she would plan out our meals ahead of time and buy most of it on those Friday night shopping excursions.

I remember one time as mom was at the checkout line, she gave  me permission to look at all the quarter prize machines. I placed my stuffed animal on top of the machines and gazed longingly at the contents of each and every vessel. Before I knew it, mom was done and out we went. It wasn’t until we got home that I realized I had left my stuffed animal on the machines. The Pathmark was a 15-20 minute drive from our house, but my mom drove me back there to get my toy. Sadly, it wasn’t there by that time, and I cried the whole way home. I remember Elton John’s “Rocket Man” playing on the radio. I think of that stuffed animal every time I hear that song, and remember how kind it was of my mom to make the long drive back to the store.

Once home, I would enjoy whatever snack I had selected while watching the Friday night line up on ABC, which was broadcasting gold to me as a child. I had the television all to myself while my siblings were off to the big city, and I stuffed my face and filled my head with the exploits of the Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family and if I could stay up late enough, “Love, American Style.”

It was great. Fridays were great. Whatever choice I made for my Friday night I came out a winner; Fun and frolic with dad and my brother and sisters in the Big Apple, or alone time with the best mom on the planet and a night filled with junk food and David Cassidy. How could a kid go wrong?

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